A group of yoga teacher friends and I were having a discussion recently about our students: despite our specific efforts to offer multiple versions, or levels, for some poses, our students almost always jump straight to the most difficult one. Often, this decision leads to a loss of strength and form, lots of shaking, and the constipated-grimace of overexertion and discomfort.
We are all guilty of this sometimes, we join a class, look around the room, and want to feel like we are not the worst person in there. When I started practicing, having previously been focused on boxing, running, and weights, I was militant in my demands for physical exertion – to get my butt kicked, to get my work out!
I found that yoga was a great way to accomplish this. It opened up new ways to use my entire body, to learn how to work each muscle, that each area of engagement is both more complex and more refined than any exercise at the gym had ever been. It requires simultaneous attention to breath control, posture, engagement, transitions, and balance. I learned how my body is nuanced, how it always works as a single entity, and how this awareness could make me stronger than I had ever been.
On top of this, I had so many choices of how to play, practice, and discover a fitness regime that broke the monotony of my previous training. It changed my life to break away from the rigid gym routines, and to open up to a whole new idea about my body and its capabilities. I still get my butt kicked, and try to challenge my students, but I am also continually inspired, humbled, and grateful for my practice.
In the middle of a class, it can be hard to see each variation as a pose in its own right, without jumping straight to the difficult ones – the ones we see as ‘advanced’ or ‘better’ alternatives. The kicker here, however, is that yoga poses are nearly limitless and each one can be made as complex as you want to make it.
There will ALWAYS be a new, ‘better’ more challenging form of any pose. At the same time, indulging in the small complexities of simple poses can sometimes offer the greatest challenge of all. I was always inspired by this quote by Leslie Kaminoff who stated, “Either the goal of yoga is to be free, or the goal of yoga is to get it right. You can’t really have it both ways. Because if you choose freedom, you have to divest yourself of that crazy idea that you have to get it right.”
So as we look into the start of a new year, take note of how you act and react in these situations, in yoga, other fitness activities, or in life. Where can you choose to simplify, or to find smaller nodes of engagement? Where can you bump it up? Even if you don’t have a yoga practice, this idea remains the same although I suggest that you might give yoga a try in 2015!
In other words, yoga is complex, but so is life. And you can make it as challenging or simple as you choose. Yes… it is your choice. Therein lays the beauty of a yoga practice: it is up to the student to own their decisions, to honor their bodies, and to create the place they want to be. And there is nothing better, or more advanced, than that.
About the Author
Melissa is a former boxer and runner who has trained, taught, and traveled extensively around the world. Over the past 6 years, Melissa has targeted her teaching to empower her students and to encourage integrity and strength in each body and every pose. She is equipped with two Yoga Alliance RYT-200 certifications, including credentials in Dice Ida-Klein and Briohny Smyth ‘FitFlow,’ and additional specializations in pre-natal and yin yoga. Melissa has worked with mentors Tiffany Cruickshank, Dave Farmar, Kathryn Budig to develop a unique approach that combines anatomical awareness and power moves for a creative flow yoga style.